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Democracy in the United States of America

In the minds of many people, the history of the United States begins with the proclamation of independence, that is, from 1775 (Wiebe 1996). In fact, by the day the United States was founded, American society had already had a 170-year history (Wiebe 1996). In 1775, the war of independence began in North America, which took on the character of a bourgeois revolution, but before breaking out on the battlefields, the revolution for years was carried out in the minds of the people (Wiebe 1996). Even then, such concepts as a social contract, natural and inalienable human rights, and the separation of powers – the principles of the philosophy of the Enlightenment – were firmly entrenched in the minds of Americans.

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The political system took on its more or less complete form in a quarter of a century (Gouran 2020). In the course of the democratic reforms in thirteen sovereign states, the executive and legislative powers were weakened as much as possible, and suffrage was expanded, republican constructions and bills of rights were widely adopted. Each of the states has concentrated the most important functions of internal political administration. At the same time, the confederal government could not impose taxes and import duties and was deprived of the right to regulate interstate commerce and interfere in their economies. In general, in all important cases, the Confederate government had to rely on the goodwill of the state government. It was believed by many Americans to be an exemplary democratic organization. The study focuses on how democratic participation influenced the formation of a deep sense of American collective identity. Two main episodes: the democratic flows and actions around the Constitution of the US in 1789, and the practices in a time of new political parties at the beginning of the 19th century, are key events in the formation of American national identity (McNamara and Musgrave 2020).

It is historically proven that collective identity is an essential part of any political action. Collective identity is a concept based on the classical constructs of socio-philosophical knowledge, in particular, such as the “collective consciousness” of Durkheim, and the “Class consciousness” of Marx (citation?). What these concepts have in common is that they embrace a certain “we” of the community and the common features inherent in its members. In mainstream philosophy, the understanding of identity occurs within the framework of the problem of identity as a characteristic of being. Identity in a philosophical vein is, first of all, the identity of the personality, the self-awareness of the unity of own consciousness at a different time and in different places.

Sociologists were first to talk about collective identity, which in the future will be designated as a national, ethnic, cultural, and social notion. In their work, we find an understanding of the fact that the formation of identity presupposes such a degree of internalization of traditions, customs, and norms when the acting individual no longer separates himself in a certain sense from the group. The individual perceives something that is happening as having a relation not to him as a separate, but to a certain “we” (Bourbeau 2017). Since politics are based on the actors, who make strategies based on how certain situation is related to them, identity and culture are not separable from political life. Hence, politicians, who are aiming to strengthen their power, establishment, and features of collective identity is a significant political tools. The intentional construction of collective identity as a political instrument is not a new invention and has been being used for a long period.

Nowadays, the U.S. is known in the political arena as a country with a well-established, unified nation with a strong collective identity. However, at the beginning of the establishment as a nation, Americans were closer to the intergovernmental organization of separated states. Various democratic actions resulted in the process of unification of collective identity from a separate state-centered identity to a common American identity. Other than legitimating properties, participatory democracy’s one characteristic is that it can integrate separate elements into civic identity. Typical daily practices of democratic interactions are voting at the ballot box, meeting with other citizens to listen to a candidate’s electoral speech, or reading various media supporting or opposing a candidate. These practices significantly contributed to the creation of a new collective identity of Americans. Moreover, the emergence of practices such as political clubs, toasts at various political banquets, the creation of national holidays like the Fourth of July, and political periodicals was revolutionary for Western democracy in its early stages (McNamara and Musgrave 2020). Those practices resulted in a change in the social topology of political confrontation.

Democratic practices are known to have consequences on the development of new polities and collective identity. The collective identity of Americans started to form the moment when there was a disruption of a key core state power (McNamara and Musgrave 2020). It resulted in the flux of the political actors and institutions and put the centralization of the entire republic under question. If the conventional history only mentions the actions of famous political officials as a leading force of political movement, the role of the masses who significantly influenced democratic participation is left. One of the moments when the establishment of core state power of the United States was in dispute is the democratic contestation against the US Constitution adoption. The ratification of the US Constitution of 1787 was the major event, which gave a start to the redistribution of the powers among states and the federal union (McNamara and Musgrave 2020). The event was also an important moment for the creation of a new collective identity as a result of the beginning of the new democratic participation of citizens.

The ratification of the US Constitution required a victory over the public since most of them were more loyal to states rather than to United America. For that purpose, the group elite, who created the US Constitution, started producing iconography to create the collective identity required for ratification of the US Constitution (McNamara and Musgrave 2020). A large number of voters, who would create, disseminate, and perform national symbols, were required to establish and strengthen the power under the new US Constitution (Kilmer 2019). The ratification process involved the extension of political activity from highly official individuals to common citizens. It resulted in various types of nationalist practices unifying the citizens. A new flow of democratic practices, produced by the ratification of the US Constitution, resulted in cementing a foundation of the new collective identity of US citizens (Gouran 2020). One of the examples of such practices is public festivals and parades with craftsman leaders, who were celebrating the new polity. Such practices, including parades on the Fourth of July, and political banquets, became the instruments for a big masses – men and women – to practice both local politics and nationalism (McNamara and Musgrave 2020).

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Another important event, the creation of a strong wave of democratic practices, is the Presidential Elections, where Andrew Jackson collected most of the votes but did not become a President. As a result, Jackson’s supporters, trying to avenge the defeat, created the first mass American party, which gathered Jackson’s followers together under one candidate and identity. The Jacksonians fought for the legitimacy of the candidate, who won most of the vote (Lynn et al. 2019). As a consequence, the next presidential elections in 1828 with Jackson’s participation had more participation and was a more democratic political event. This event resulted in the creation of the “New Democracy” initiated by big masses, which was a significant contribution to US democratic practices. It completed the Constitution’s formal institutions by gaining popularity in participatory practices, which will be a foundation for the formation of a new stronger collective identity of US citizens (Lynn et al. 2019).

The innovations in the generation of national identity were the party-making by a complicated system of national conventions that were more inclusive and participatory compared to the previous system. The new system even pushed their elite opponents to create opposition Whig Party copying the innovation. Whig Party even became more successful in involving the Americans in politics as their everyday activity. In 1840, the Whigs started running the first modern presidential campaign that covered almost the whole US. The candidate, Willian Henry Harrison, was presented as a working-class man of popular appeals via songs and slogans, which are remembered even nearly two centuries later (McNamara and Musgrave 2020). Such activities represent one important aspect of how democratic society and its practices contributed to the formation of a new American collective identity.

The ability of such activists’ organizations to create democratic activities and practices on a federal, or as it can be called, the national scale, represents a broad transformation in the social structure reproducing the American identity. The emergence of several different parties in a political arena became a routine activity in American citizen’s life. It was not a distant republic of reason, as the drafters of the US Constitution suggested, but it was a bustling society that is later called “Democracy in America” (McNamara and Musgrave 2020).

To conclude, the history of American society goes beyond the independence of the United States. Various political activities and powers were involved in the formation of today’s American society throughout its history. Democracy, which is one of the principles of American government and society, was a key factor in shaping the collective identity of US citizens as one nation rather than separate states. The ratification of the US Constitution is a key event, which triggered the creation of democratic activities. The need in establishing and strengthening the US Constitution resulted in the mass dissemination and popularization of national symbols. Also, activities like voting, electoral speech gatherings, and political media production put the foundation for the creation of a new national collective identity.

Moreover, Jacksonians started a big mass movement fighting for new legitimacy rules for the candidates. It gathered all Jacksonians, which were a majority of US citizens, under one aim and identity. It, consequently, resulted in a creation of a “New Democracy,” which created a new form of participatory practice. Such democratic practices became so popular that the conservative elites started copying the political invention, which resulted in even more involvement of citizens in politics. Hence, the United States’ citizens were gathered and unified via mass popularization of participatory democratic activities, including the creation of parties, campaigns for Presidency candidates, and political media. Thus, democracy in America is a key factor in the establishment of its collective national identity.

References

Bourbeau, Philippe. 2017. “The Practice Approach in Global Politics.” Journal of Global Security Studies 2 (2): 170-182.

Gouran, Dennis S. 2020. “Social Evolution, Political Psychology, and the Media in Democracy: The Invisible Hand in the US Marketplace of Ideas.” International Journal of Communication (19328036) : 4212-4215.

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Kilmer, Paulette D. 2019. “Election Symbols: The Language of the Heart, Veil over the Mind?” American Journalism 36 (4): 519-33. Web.

Lynn, Joshua A., and Harry L. Watson. 2019. “Introduction: Race, Politics, and Culture in the Age of Jacksonian’ Democracy.’” Journal of the Early Republic 39 (1): 81-87.

McNamara, Kathleen R., and Paul Musgrave. 2020. “Democracy and Collective Identity in the EU and the USA.” Journal of Common Market Studies 58 (1): 172-188.

Wiebe, R. H. 1996. “Self-rule: A cultural history of American democracy”. University of Chicago Press.

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